The county seat (1860, 4,695 feet), a sleepy trading post, awakened in 1872 to the steam whistle of the Denver & Rio Grande. Rising with the railroad age, Pueblo had put up 185 new buildings by the end of 1873. By the 1880s, the D&RG and its subsidiary, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I), transformed the outpost at the junction of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River into the Pittsburgh of the West.
Architect and Buildermagazine noted in 1891 that Pueblo's “massive monuments of imperishable stone [put it] far ahead of many cities of a larger population.” Many masonry edifices survive, giving Pueblo an unusually rich building stock of older homes, public buildings, and commercial structures. As Colorado's industrial giant, Pueblo developed many ethnic, working-class neighborhoods. Italians initially clustered around the steel mill in Bessemer, while many Slavs worked at the Philadelphia Smelting and Refining Company and lived nearby amid the cottonwoods lining the Arkansas River in the area known as the Grove. More recently, Hispanics settled in Peppersauce Bottoms and along Salt Creek. Greeks, Japanese, and others also staked out turf in the Steel City.
Modern Pueblo is an amalgam of four communities, an evolution that accounts for some of its odd street patterns and conflicting grid plans. Pueblo was platted in 1860 on the north bank of the Arkansas River near the site of El Pueblo. General William Palmer platted South Pueblo on the south side of the Arkansas in 1873. It grew to include the fashionable residential district on the southern bluffs. Central Pueblo grew up between Pueblo and South Pueblo on the north bank of the river. These three municipalities were consolidated in 1886 and joined in 1889 by Bessemer, the steelworkers' town which grew up farther south, around the CF&I steel mill.
Pueblo at one time aspired to replace Denver as the state capital and, in an effort to outdo Denver, hired Louis Sullivan to design its Grand Opera House. This 1889 landmark burned in 1922. Pueblo's hopes of displacing Colorado's Queen City were also short-lived. Until the 1960s Pueblo was the second most populous county in Colorado, but it did not share in Colorado's post–World War II boom. Now that the steel mills are modernized and only partly in use, the air is clearer and sweeter in the steel city. Pueblo is today capturing new industry, retirees, and tourists.
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